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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SUGAR

By D.E.Levine

Directors and Writers: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Producer: Paul Mezey, Jamie Patricof, Jeremy Kipp Walker
Executive Producer: Anna Boden
Cast: Algenis Perez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland, Michale Gaston, Jaime Tirelli, Jose Rijo, Ann Whitney, Richard Bull, Ellary Porterfield, Alina Vargas, Kelvin Leonardo Garcia, Joendy Pena
Dialogue: Spanish/English
Running Time: 118 minutes
Genre: Drama

The same group that gave us 'Half Nelson' has now written and produced Sugar, a film that gives us a little seen look at Dominican baseball players trying to leave the training farms in the D.R. and make it to the major leagues in the United States.

Basically in Spanish, the film concentrates on Sugar, a young man who has spent most of his childhood and teenage years bucking the odds against him to make it from obscurity to the major leagues. A pitcher who excels in the D.R., we see through following Sugar, how large an industry has grown up in the D.R, around finding young boys and putting them through training on major team farms.

Getting to a farm doesn't guarantee you'll make it, but Miguel "Sugar" Santos is a really good pitcher, gets noticed and is chosen to go to training in the USA. His family, shown as living in meager surroundings at almost poverty level, is thrilled because even his training income which he sends back home is greater than any income he could possibly earn locally. Of course, their dream and his is to make it all the way to the U.S. Major Leagues.

While in the D.R. Sugar is confident, a sense of self and a devoted girl friend. He's expecting to be called up and he is along with several others. Lacking much English, once in Arizona the boys eat only the French Toast they know how to order, and marvel at the difference in accomodations provided to them in the USA. Sugar's performance and work get him sent to an A-team in Bridgetown, Iowa where he lives on a farm with a religious couple who are avid ball fans, attending all the Swing games and screaming their advice out. But, with little English and feeling isolated due to some racial incidents and lack of familiar surroundings, friends, foods, etc. start affecting Sugar's performance. After suffering a minor injury that sidelines him for a while, increasingly depressed and isolated, and overshadowed by the arrival of a new Dominican pitching sensation, Sugar takes a surprising turn.

We don't want to give away the entire plot, but the film, believable from the start even with the use of many non professional actors, loses steam as Sugar changes his life path. While the actors are believable, viewers wonder why a boy who devoted his entire childhood and teenage years to trying to get to the USA to play ball would give up easily without fighting for everything he's always wanted which is now within his grasp.

On the other hand, the film explores the very real plight of the many D.R. players who come to the USA and don't succeed in making it to the major leagues. Despite such success stories as Sammy Sosa and Pedro Martinez, there are more players that arrive from the D.R. training camps and don't succeed in making it to the U.S.Major Leagues than the ones who do. The film itself is done so realistically that when watching it you believe you're watching a documentary rather than a dramatic piece of fiction.